Football's a roller-coaster: Jamshedpur FC's Hartley stresses on mental health’s importance

The former Sunderland and Motherwell centre-back said that mental health was the most important aspect in football

Peter Hartley in action for Jamshedpur FC in the ISL last season.   -  ISL/Sportzpics

Mental health has become a significant talking point in sports with prominent athletes Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and Ben Stokes have all taken breaks owing to their mental health.

Emphasising on the importance of mental health in football, Indian Super League side Jamshedpur FC’s captain Peter Hartley, said “that’s where the game starts”.

In an interview to Sportstar, he said, “Mental health is the most important thing in football, because without having a fresh mind and a positive state of mind, you can't physically play to your maximum potential every single game.”

READ | Simone Biles: Mental health advocacy part of post-Olympic tour

MIND, an UK-based charity recently, recognised in a study that elite sportsmen experience a unique set of pressures that affect their mind severely.

Breaking down the mental aspect of the beautiful game

Hartley stressed on the need to keep a healthy and happy mind for success in the sport.

“That's where the game starts – it doesn't start when you go from the warm up or when the referee blows the whistle for kick-off, the game starts two-three hours before the night before,” said Hartley.

“Your thought process, what's going through your head, the positive thoughts going over your images, your little patterns of play in your head.”

“If you come in that situation, when the game does starts, you've already seen it in your head. You have that split second extra.”

“Obviously, players have been technically gifted, blessed with so much work ethic but mentally just not been strong enough to deal with playing in front of big crowds and getting criticised,” he added.

Hartley spent four seasons at Scotland's Motherwell FC. - GETTY IMAGES


Collect ticks and not crosses

Hartley led Jamshedpur FC to a record number of nine clean sheets last season, with the club finishing mid-table.

He reiterated the importance of mental strength to the young footballers at the club.

“Collect ticks and not crosses,” he said.

“Mental strength is the first tick in the box for becoming a professional footballer. If you give the ball away, don't worry about what just happened; think about the next pass.”

“Every time you keep the ball it's a tick, and then the confidence is building because you kept the ball for three passes.”

“I said to Mobashir (Rahman) to keep it simple for the first 10 minutes. You play into a game, you get more confident as the game goes along.”

“And then obviously, you can start expressing yourself,” he added.

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The English centre-back began his journey in Indian football during the pandemic last year. Settling away from family was “extremely difficult”, but Jamshedpur’s camaraderie was his panacea, he says.

“Everybody had down days and open days being in a bubble. We’ve had an amazing togetherness at the club, and we pulled each other through.”

“I didn't realise how difficult it was going to be living away from my family until I’d done it. I've got a four-year old son and my wife was pregnant as well at the time. So that was even more difficult,” he said.

Football's a roller-coaster”

Coming from the ranks at Sunderland, Peter made his debut under former Manchester United player-turned-manager Roy Keane.

However, he spent most of his career in the lower divisions of English football after leaving Sunderland, which was then in the Premier League.

“Football's a roller-coaster, you're going to be on top of the world one day, and then you're going to be on the bottom of the world the next. So you've got to stay level headed.”

He suffered two successive relegations with Hartlepool United and Stevenage in 2013 and 2014 respectively, which in his opinion, made him grow up.

“I know it sounds a bit strange, two relegations benefited me but it made me a man.”

“It made me understand that football is a game and at the end of the day, you've got to put bread on the table and you're fighting for your life, so it made me realise that you've got to dig deep and you can't accept low standards in the dressing room.”

“You can't get carried away never get too high when things are going well. And obviously you don't get too low when they're not,” he said.

Since 2017, he joined Motherwell, becoming the runner-up in the Scottish Cup and Scottish league cup in 2018 and led the team to a third place finish in the 2019-20 season as club-captain.

READ | ISL: Jamshedpur FC retains captain Peter Hartley for 2021-22 season

Hartley signed a one-year-extension with Jamshedpur this month and will have to continue playing behind closed doors for the 2021 season.

“It just gives me a new lease of life – playing in India, with the different cultures and seeing how different people are and how different people live is absolutely amazing,” he said.

With bio-secure bubble continuing in the new ISL season, the skipper from Hartlepool will look to surpass impediments with a healthy body and more importantly, a healthy mind.

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